Part 4 – Exercise 9 – “Working from a photograph” – finished study

The brief:

Choose a landscape photo with plenty of space and either tall trees in the middle ground or hills or mountains in the background. If you don’t have one of your own, look through magazines or images on the internet. When you’ve decided on your photo, look at it critically to decide how you might interpret it.

Don’t accept the format and composition of the photo as the best or only one. Mask the image in various ways. You may find that less sky or more foreground makes a more exciting composition, for example. When you’ve decided on your composition, make a few quick drawings of the main shapes.

Pin up your drawings and the photo and start painting in your chosen medium. As you paint, try not to look at the photo too often as you might be tempted to copy it. Some artists put away their reference photos once they’ve begun to get the feel of the painting and only refer to them when they need to check some detail. What you should be aiming at is an interpretation, not a faithful copy.

It’s often useful to have some objects or other visual stimuli such as rocks, pebbles, soil samples, bark or foliage to give you not only colour reference but an evocation of the place that you’re going to paint. You could also introduce a range of resources or visual reference points into the painting itself to help you to convey your sense of a place. For example, you could use some of the materials of the landscape in your painting. A lot of artists mix soil and sand into their pigments. Acrylic paint lends itself well to mixing with PVA which can then be used to stick light-weight objects and materials such as leaves, bark, grasses or wood.

(There’s more about this in Part Five.)

When you’ve finished, look at both the painting and the reference photograph. In what ways did you depart from the photo? Why did you make that choice? Did you produce a painting that satisfied you, or were you over influenced by the photo?

The process:

On a business trip to the Isle of Skye in March 2011, I stopped north of Portree at Loch Fada to capture a photograph (using an early Canon EOS 300D digital SLR) of the ‘Old Man of Storr’ – a large pinnacle of rock that can be seen towering over the landscape for miles around. The Storr stands on the Trotternish ridge on the north eastern coastline of Skye and was created by a massive ancient landslide. It is an iconic image, representing the Isle of Skye and is ‘one of the most photographed landscapes in the world’. [ source: http://www.isleofskye.com/skye-guide/top-ten-skye-walks/old-man-of-storr ] [Accessed 20/08/14].

When I took the photograph the weather was fairly grey and windy with mist hanging over the the top of the ridge and some blue sky peaking through to the north. The cloud base started to break up and the Trotternish ridge and the Storr were highlighted in a brighter light. I stopped in a lay-by on the Portree to Staffin road on the west bank of Loch Fada, one of two fresh water lochs that make up the Storr Lochs. North of Loch Fada is the larger Loch Leathan and the two stretches of fresh water are joined by a narrow navigable strip. The ‘Old Man’ stands looking out over the Sound of Raasay to the east.

Part 4 - exercise 9 "Working from a photograph" - reference photo (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 9 “Working from a photograph” – reference photo (click image to enlarge)

Having chosen this image for my exercise interpretation, I masked off the landscape and made four sketches of possible compositions:

Part 4 - exercise 9 "Working from a photograph" - masked drawing 1 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 9 “Working from a photograph” – masked drawing 1 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 - exercise 9 "Working from a photograph" - masked drawing 2 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 9 “Working from a photograph” – masked drawing 2 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 - exercise 9 "Working from a photograph" - masked drawing 3 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 9 “Working from a photograph” – masked drawing 3 (click image to enlarge)

I rejected sketch 3 as I felt the Storr was too centrally placed, with not enough interest to the right of the composition. Sketch 1, I felt, showed the Storr too far to the right of the composition, while sketch 2 still didn’t seem to meet my needs, mainly as the bottom loch element across the composition was too divorced from the rest of the image.

So, in the end, I decided to go with my fourth sketch for this exercise:

Part 4 - exercise 9 "Working from a photograph" - selected drawing (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 9 “Working from a photograph” – selected drawing (click image to enlarge)

I then marked up a 50 x 50cm canvas board for a 40 x 40cm acrylic painting of the composition” and lightly drafted in the main shapes.

I felt that this composition offered a better balanced picture, with the eye being led from the shoreline and upturned rowing boat at bottom left through the tree and loch bank line, up through the the hillside to the ridge itself and then back down to the Storr as focal point:

Part 4 - exercise 9 "Working from a photograph" - marked up study for painting (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 9 “Working from a photograph” – marked up study for painting (click image to enlarge)

The finished study:

I used a hog hair filbert brushes – size 8, 4 and 2 and a size 0 round brush.

My palette consisted of the following pigments:

Warm
Primary Yellow
Venice Yellow
Cadmium Red
Raw Sienna

Cool
Cerulean Blue
Cadmium Green hue
Phtolocyanine Emerald
Burnt Umber

and; Payne’s Grey and Titanium White.

I built the painting using washes (wet on dry), until the finishing touches which were painted thick wet-on-wet. However, you can still see some of the squared-off lines showing through the paint cover in places (if you look closely).

Part 4 - exercise 9 "Working from a photograph" - final rough cut (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 9 “Working from a photograph” – final rough cut (click image to enlarge)

While the original image of the photograph I took back in 2011 was pleasing, and captured a passing moment, I am much happier with my finished painterly study. I think I managed to simplify the original photo composition down to an interpretation of the scene that is a personal reflection on the beauty and drama of the Trotternish landscape on the Isle of Skye that I experienced on the day, using four/five tonal zones:

Full light – areas of sky and water
Half light – areas of sky and water and upper hillside
Half dark – mid hill scape and shore line
Full dark – foreground trees/shore
Light highlights – foreground upturned rowing boat, upper tree and mid scene roadway
Dark highlights – loch shoreline

I’m also much happier with my brush strokes in this exercise as I feel they do capture some of the dynamic energy of this rural island wild landscape.

The Old Man of Storr from Loch Fada, Isle of Skye – finished study

Part 4 - exercise 9 "Working from a photograph" - finished study (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 9 “Working from a photograph” – finished study (click image to enlarge)

Exercise 9 – working from a photograph ← click the link to download a .pdf version of this page

Stuart Brownlee – 512319

30th August, 2014